It’s safe to say that the past two years have significantly impacted how hotels must communicate with guests in all stages of the journey. As prices increase across travel, tourism, and hospitality outlets, travelers have grown more discerning than ever to ensure they get the best value for their money.
The evolution in guest expectations is one of the biggest challenges in the hotel industry today. After the past two years, guests demand a lot more from hotels: including seamless research and payment experiences, transparent pricing and fees, flexible refund and cancellation policies, clean and inviting appearance, and special perks and offers - to name just a few.
In this article, we ask the question: “Is your Hotel’s Digital Marketing & Sales Mix your Own Worst Enemy?” We also share some crucial areas you should focus on when tweaking your hotel’s digital marketing and sales strategies to reach more guests and get more direct bookings in 2022.
Hotel Digital Marketing & Sales - What Changed over the Past 2 Years?
A number of things changed over the past two years. After widespread lockdowns led to a flood of cancellations, flexibility became a key factor for guests booking travel and accommodation. Following customer dissatisfaction with unsatisfactory refund policies, more and more guests reached out to hotels directly for inquiries and bookings.
As international travel corredors closed, domestic leisure travel grew exponentially, and hotels across all market segments pivoted to this demand. Guests were also booking under short notice with mobile as the preferred device. Subsequently, mobile direct bookings also grew significantly over the past two years.
Most notably, through all of these rising trends, hotel direct bookings increased significantly and dominated all other channels in 2020 and 2021. Furthermore, direct more frequently converted into direct stays for hotels over the past two years.
As OTAs increase investment toward their marketing mix, Hoteliers are thinking about how best to continue strengthening their direct booking channels and maintain control of distribution, in the most cost-effective way for their business. To get started, Hoteliers must ask themselves this very important question:
Is your Hotel’s Digital Marketing & Sales Mix your Own Worst Enemy?
According to Guestcentric’s ongoing Hotelier PULSE Report, which has surveyed thousands of hoteliers since April 2020 until the present, the majority of respondents continue to prioritize making their direct channels the dominant source of reservations and revenue over the coming year.
While these aspirations are all good and well in theory, it’s important to evaluate whether they are reflected in practice. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Is it easy for guests to find and visit my hotel website?
- Once visitors land on my hotel website, do they feel inspired to learn more about what my hotel has to offer?
- Most importantly, how many guests are abandoning my website vs booking directly?
Now, consider the following areas in your hotel’s website and overall digital marketing mix:
1. Search Engine Optimization & Visibility - Is it Easy for Travelers to find your Hotel Website Online?
You can have the most visually appealing hotel website in the world, yet it will all be for nothing if it is invisible on search engines - and most notably Google. Thus, it’s important to ensure that your hotel website ticks all the boxes in terms of SEO best practices.
Visibility doesn’t stop with SEO best practices. It’s important to analyze where your prospective guests are and provide links to your hotel website within those spaces. Are prospects hanging out on social media? Publish special offers exclusively for direct bookers. Can you beat OTA prices and reach more travelers on Google? Get your hotel set up on Google Hotel Free Booking Links.
2. Look, feel, branding, and navigation - Does your hotel website invite guests to stay awhile, or is it driving them away?
The ultimate reason people visit your website is to get an idea of what it would be like to stay at your hotel. They also want to know where your hotel is located and its proximity to local attractions and amenities.
If your hotel website is cluttered, littered with photos taken by your well-meaning, yet amatuer cousin, and so messily designed that visitors are unable to get what they want quickly, the chances of them bouncing are very high. Are your hotel’s address, contact details, and other crucial information easy to access, or do you find yourself treasure-hunting?
The Fuel Report also shows that photos are the number 1 decision-making factor for guests who visit a hotel website. Furthermore, your hotel brand represents who you are, and can make or break consumer trust. Is your brand strongly represented on your hotel website? Would you trust your hotel brand as an online visitor?
3. Special Offers & Packages - What’s in it for your Guest when they book directly on your website?
44% of global travelers consider special offers important to the booking process. If you want to win direct bookings over the likes of major OTAs that offer an array of attractive packages and competitive rates, it is absolutely crucial that you shout about your special offers across ALL areas of your website:
Does your property have the most famous restaurant in town? Offer a discount on dining, only for direct bookers. Is your hotel spa top-notch? Show it off on your website, and clearly let visitors know they will receive a complimentary wellness perk for booking directly on your website.
Be sure to highlight your special offers across all areas of your hotel website: Home page scroll, special offers teasers, and descriptions, and booking engine loading area.
And of course, it goes without saying that price is an important factor in the decision-making process. So remember to highlight that your rates beat the competition, and are exclusive to visitors who book directly on your hotel website.
4. Cancellation & Refund Policies - Are they flexible to the needs of your Guests?
Although travel demand has exploded in recent months and currently outperforms pre-pandemic levels, it’s important to note that the pandemic increased customer need for flexibility. Thus, hotels must continue to reassure guests by communicating flexibility to accommodate their needs.
Can guests receive credit to claim a canceled booking at a later date? Do you have a free cancellation policy under a specified timeframe? Do you offer free late check-out during low seasons? If you answered yes, these policies should be visible and clearly communicated across your website and during the booking process.
5. Pricing - Are you giving guests the best deals in comparison to OTAs and other third-party channels?
Research by RateGain reveals that up to 98% of 4-star hotels offer their rooms cheaper on OTA sites rather than on their own. How can you expect customers to book directly with you at a higher price than carrying out the same process via an OTA?
An effective hotel pricing and channel management strategy is imperative for maintaining control of distribution while optimizing direct sales and revenue. Using a channel manager, hotels can more easily centralize their distribution channels, analyze channel reservations data, and use this information to implement smart pricing strategies across your hotel website and other direct channels.
Once you’ve established your pricing strategy, remember to highlight that your rates beat the competition, and are exclusive to visitors who book directly on your hotel website.
6. The Booking Process - Is it Easier for Guests to Book Direct or to Abandon your Hotel Website?
Research by Guestcentric shows that 97% of online visitors abandon a hotel website during the booking process. Although it’s crucial to ensure your hotel website is visible and allows guests to digitally experience your hotel before booking a stay, it will all be for nothing if you do not deliver a seamless booking process.
Hotel website best practices should also be reflected in your booking engine. This means your hotel booking engine should also offer efficient and straightforward navigation, allowing guests to seamlessly check availability, select nights, and book without hesitation.
It’s also important to reiterate best offers and flexible policies at the time of booking, in order to eliminate any late-stage hesitancy. Furthermore, you should create a sense of urgency to book by including shopping activation and recovery widgets across your hotel booking engine. It is also imperative that your payment windows are secure, so that guests feel comfortable to complete the online transaction.
Last but not least, you should also ensure that your hotel booking engine is responsive on mobile devices, as more and more guests are booking via mobile since March 2020 up until the present day.
Hotel Digital Marketing & Sales must evolve in line with Consumer Behavior in order to grow Direct Bookings
Your hotel’s digital marketing and sales strategy should not be viewed as a set and forget project. In order for it to be effective, your hotel digital marketing and sales strategy must be current and align with the ever-changing trends and behaviors of travelers researching and booking online.
Reaching more guests and getting more direct bookings online is by no means an overnight process. It will take time before you generate the desired return on investment. Information is power, so be sure to consistently analyze your customers and measure your performance across all your booking channels and revenue sources in order to adapt accordingly.
Most importantly, a successful hotel digital marketing and sales strategy must clearly let guests know they will get the best offer when they book directly on your hotel website. Although your hotel may be competing against the OTA giants for visibility, you can always deliver a superior navigation and branding experience on your website. You can also reserve your best prices and offers for your hotel website, in order to increase conversions and direct bookings for your hotel.
*Published with Permission from Hotel Executive